If you’re curious to know how food gets from farm to table, there is an interesting path to pursue a business degree within a large flagship state university. 

Many public universities are designated as Federal Land Grant colleges as well as the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell, the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry at Syracuse, the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University and Tuskegee University (AL), a historically black college. These colleges are typically home to majors in Agriculture as well as complementary scientific fields such as Agronomy, Animal Science, Botany, Environmental Science, Food Science  and Nutrition, among others. But they are also home to an undergraduate business degree program as well as an undergraduate economics program specialized towards agriculture and food products. 

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, as one example, has an extensive program with nine concentrations related to business and public policy. Purdue’s programs have several specific industry tracks. Classes in the advanced courses are likely to be smaller, though more industry-specific than those in the business school. Agricultural companies have unique needs in accounting, farm management, finance and marketing though many of the job titles will be similar to those that are likely to be tied to a more conventional business major. 

Admissions to the business schools at universities such as Illinois and Purdue have become increasingly selective, and more recently, encourage direct admission for prospective freshman, making it more difficult to transfer later. Admissions to a school of agriculture might be less selective, especially for a student who also has strong math and science grades but does not have the standardized test scores expected of prospective freshmen in the business school. Admissions and continued success will depend on:

  • Interest and performance in biology courses. An Agribusiness or Agricultural Economics degree will require introductory coursework in Biology as well as Accounting, Economics and Statistics. Later courses that are industry specific will cover agricultural, biological and environmental issues as well as business and economic principles. 
  • A big picture interest in agriculture and industry issues. Issues of food supply and demand, health and nutrition are global. But they do not receive the same level of media coverage as environmental, social equity or national security issues, among others. 
  • Interest in the industries that are most likely to hire. Agribusiness or Agricultural Economics majors are hired by agricultural and consumer food products companies and financial institutions, just like business majors. But graduates in the more industry-specific programs are expected to know more about the industry during internships and when applying for full-time, entry-level positions. This is their value added to an employer. If you plan to begin your college education in one of these two majors, then you should demonstrate interest in the right industries on any essays required for admission. 

In considering Agribusiness or Agricultural Economics programs, you should find out where career services will be offered. Ideally, the school of agriculture should have its own employer contacts for internships and full-time jobs through their faculty or their own career development staff. It is also possible that the business school may open access to internships and on-campus interview schedules with agricultural companies to Agribusiness or Agricultural Economics majors. 

The Agribusiness or Agricultural Economics majors offer an opportunity that could lead to a rewarding business career. But it is fair to state that, while this is another path into a business career, it is not meant to be an easier journey into one. 

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